The Interpretation of Murder A Novel

Jed Rubenfeld




Trade Paperback

464 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy
National Bestseller The Interpretation of Murder opens on a hot summer night in 1909 as Sigmund Freud disembarks in New York from a steamship. With Freud is his rival Carl Jung; waiting for him on the docks is a young physician named Stratham Younger, one of Freud's most devoted American supporters. So begins this story of what will be the great genius's first—and last—journey to America.
The morning after his arrival, a beautiful young woman is found dead in an apartment in one of the city's grand new skyscrapers, The Balmoral. The next day brings a similar crime in a townhouse on Gramercy Park. Only this time the young heiress, Nora Acton, escapes with her life—but with no memory of the attack. Asked to consult on the case, Dr. Younger calls on Freud to guide him through the girl's analysis. Their investigation, and the pursuit of the culprit, lead throughout New York, from the luxurious ballrooms of the Waldorf-Astoria, to the skyscrapers rising on seemingly every street corner, to the bottom of the East River, where laborers are digging through the silt to build the foundation of the Manhattan Bridge.
Drawing on Freud's case histories, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and the historical details of a city on the brink of modernity, The Interpretation of Murder introduces a brilliant new storyteller who, in the words of The New York Times, "will be no ordinary pop cultural sensation."


Praise for The Interpretation of Murder

“As The Interpretation of Murder races past ravished damsels, sinister aristocrats, architectural marvels (the building of the Manhattan Bridge), hysterical symptoms, a Hamlet-Freud nexus and downright criminal wordplay (‘there are more things in heaven and earth, Herr Professor, than are dreamt in your psychology’; ‘sometimes a catarrh, I’m afraid, is only a catarrh’), it cobbles together its own brand of excitement. That excitement is as palpable as it is peculiar.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"A compelling, expertly crafted murder mystery . . . Carefully researched detail is just one reason The Interpretation of Murder is shaping up to be this year's Historian."—Entertainment Weekly
"This baroque tale of egos and ids run rampant will be a welcome treat to fans of Caleb Carr's The Alienist. . . . Find a couch and prepare for a page-turning session."—Daily News (New York)
"Using a dizzying number of points of view and keeping the action taut, Rubenfeld leavens the intellectual heft with sly wit."—People
"Well researched . . . Jed Rubenfeld's entertaining psychological thriller is full of enjoyable twists and turns."—BookPage
"Rubenfeld's rendering of early-twentieth-century Manhattan is engrossing."—The Village Voice
"Rubenfeld knows how to keep readers turning pages. He steeps the story in history without waterlogging it, moving things along with well-crafted action scenes."—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"A finely written and researched historical novel."—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Proves once again that crime and literature need not be separate beasts."—Rocky Mountain News (grade: A)
"[A] brilliant conceit . . . Rubenfeld takes the reader on a beguiling tour of the opium dens of Chinatown, the haunts of the rich at Gramercy Park, and even the subterranean construction site of the Manhattan Bridge under the East River. . . . Dazzling."—The Independent (U.K.)
"Rubenfeld kicks things into high gear right from the start. . . . The depth of research Rubenfeld engaged in is evident on nearly every page. And in great historical mystery novels, a lesson in civics and criminology is always the by-product, just as it is here. . . . A compelling mystery."Pages
"This is a bold page-turner that propels us from the start with a driving plot and intriguing characters, but also with ideas—a whole history of ideas. It's a richly motivated thriller that will make you reconsider the mysteries of Freud and Hamlet. Here is a novel that you'll only want to put down in order to think more about the book."—Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club
“This is a gloriously intelligent exploration of what might have happened to Sigmund Freud during his only visit to America. The tortured body of a young society woman is found in a posh New York apartment in the summer of 1909. A day later, beautiful Nora Acton is found with similar marks, only she has managed to survive the brutal attack. Freud, en route with Carl Jung to a speaking engagement in Boston, finds himself drawn into the investigation. He asks an American colleague to psychoanalyze Nora, who has repressed all memory of the attack. Meanwhile, a determined if inexperienced police detective follows another trail. Can Freud and his fellow psychoanalysts find the killer before he strikes again? Filled with period detail, this historical thriller challenges the reader to reason out the mystery. Rubenfeld shows great talent for psychological suspense and uses shifting viewpoints to build tension. Fans of Caleb Carr will adore this work.”—Laurel Bliss, Princeton University Library, New Jersey, Library Journal
“Sigmund Freud and friends play Sherlock Holmes in an Alienist-style historical murder mystery. Human monsters stalk the teeming streets of early-20th-century New York City in Rubenfeld's ambitious debut. A sadist is assaulting rich society girls with whips and blades. Is the villain unscrupulous, wealthy entrepreneur George Banwell, who is mean to his horses and denies his gorgeous wife sexual intercourse because pregnancy would ruin her figure? Is it mysterious William Leon of Chinatown, in whose room one of the corpses is found? Or could Harry Thaw, notorious murderer of Stanford White, be slipping out from Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane? Freud, making his only visit to America, to lecture at Clark University, is in New York with a group of colleagues. Among them is one who seems crazy enough to be another murder suspect: Carl Jung. Carl has violent mood swings, carries a pocket revolver, lies about his ancestors and believes that he can hear supernatural voices. Freud's cohorts also include Dr. Stratham Younger, an American psychoanalyst given the job of analyzing lovely 17-year-old Nora Acton, who has survived an attack by the sex maniac but can't remember anything about it. Into this already-teeming stew, the author tosses a group of powerful grandees scheming to ruin Freud's visit and reputation, political corruption, the plight of the working poor, the coming psychological revolution, Oedipus, Hamlet and much more . . . Meaty and provocative, though also grandiose and calculated.”—Kirkus Reviews
"Sigmund Freud's singular visit to the U.S.—which prompted him to label Americans 'savages'—provides the premise for Rubenfeld's provocative mystery debut. As the novel opens, Freud, along with rival and protege Carl Jung, arrives in America in the steamy summer of 1909 to deliver a series of university lectures. He is soon enlisted by psychologist Stratham Younger to help solve the case of two New York debutantes preyed upon by a sadistic killer. The first young woman, Elizabeth Riverford, was found dead (whipped, mutilated, and strangled with the perpetrator's silk tie), but the second, Nora Acton, managed to escape—with no memory, alas, of the traumatic events that transpired. Under the guidance of Freud, Dr. Younger takes on Acton as a patient, becoming privy to her sexually repressed memories while fighting lustful inclinations of his own. Meanwhile, city officials pursue clues in the case, as Freud's detractors set out to ruin his reputation. Rubenfeld renders rich, complex characters, vivid period detail, and prose riddled with heady references to Hamlet. He deftly blends fiction and fact (a detailed author's note draws clear lines between the two), and his brisk, sinuous plot makes room for playful interpretations of the world according to Freud.”—Allison Block, Booklist (starred review)
"This well-researched and thought-provoking novel is sure to be a crowd pleaser."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
There is no mystery to happiness.
Unhappy men are all alike. Some wound they suffered long ago, some wish denied, some blow to pride, some kindling spark of love put out by scorn--or worse, indifference--cleaves to them, or they to it, and so they live each day within a shroud of yesterdays. The happy man does not look back. He doesn't look ahead. He lives in the present.
But there's the rub. The present can never deliver one thing: meaning. The ways of happiness and meaning are not the same. To find happiness, a man need only live in the moment; he need
Read the full excerpt


  • Jed Rubenfeld

  • Currently the Robert R. Slaughter Professor of Law at Yale University, Jed Rubenfeld is one of this country's foremost experts on constitutional law. He lives in Connecticut.



Reading Group Guide